Mayor Bloomberg probably figured that modernizing the city’s taxi system would be a piece of cake after dismantling the Board of Education and banning smoking in bars.
Not a chance. Some things in New York are resistant even to simple change.
Lobbyists for yellow cab owners have stalled the mayor’s proposal to allow street hails of livery cabs outside of Manhattan, a change designed to make doing business in the outer boroughs a good deal easier. Meanwhile, lobbyists for the livery cars are trying to stall City Hall’s plan to allow New Yorkers to hail cabs via an app on their smartphones—a system already in place in many world-class cities. The livery cabs argue that the app would violate a city measure that prohibits passengers from prearranging yellow cab rides.
And then there’s the so-called taxi of the future, a Nissan NV200, which Mr. Bloomberg unveiled with great ceremony months ago. City Hall envisioned a sea of Nissans patrolling Manhattan over the 10-year life of a contract with the automaker. The yellow cab industry filed suit, charging that the agreement violates a city policy designed to encourage hybrid cabs. The Nissan NV200 is not a hybrid.
What all of this amounts to, really, is fear of change. It’s not about reducing the city’s carbon footprint—it’s about protecting turf.
It will be more than a shame if the city stands still while national and global competitors deploy technology and creativity to make the act of ordering a cab easier. If a lobbyist can order a cab from her phone in a restaurant in Washington, D.C.—and track the cab’s progress—why shouldn’t New Yorkers enjoy the same convenience?
Perhaps Mr. Bloomberg should have anticipated these obstacles. The taxi industry in recent years has been more than happy to take the city to court rather than adapt to the 21st century.
But then again, perhaps the mayor simply figured that common sense would win out. And maybe it will—but not without a needless and wasteful battle in the courts.